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Now there is tangible proof.
For seemingly an entire season, Larry Krystkowiak has preached patience while rebuilding Utah's program, pointing to any measure of improvement along the way. But for a long time, all the Utes had to show for it was several close losses to very good teams such as Arizona and UCLA.
Utah took the disappointment of the past and exploded through it for a weekend. A Senior Day crowd of 11,628 at the Huntsman Center on Saturday witnessed the Utes lay a 72-62 whooping on No. 19 Oregon. When it was over, senior center Jason Washburn stood on the court soaking in the adulation of a crowd giving him and his team a continuous standing ovation.
Now there is tangible proof.
"This one means a lot," small forward Cedric Martin said. "To make progress as a program like we have means a lot. We won six games last year. We've doubled that, so there is definitely progress. We want to keep it going. We feel like we have more work to do."
Utah is a 5-13 team in the Pac-12 that will enter the conference tournament this week with a bushel full of confidence. Maybe the Utes have good reason. After all, they have won consecutive league games for the first time. They beat a nationally ranked opponent for the first time since 2008, when they bested Gonzaga in Salt Lake City. They beat a ranked conference foe for the first time in seven years, and they assured themselves of not finishing last in the conference.
More importantly, Utah didn't exactly squeak by the Ducks. Much like the convincing win against Oregon State on Thursday, the Utes dominated pretty much from start to finish. Utah never trailed, opening the matchup with a 9-0 run and leading by as many as 17 points early in the second half. An E.J. Singler 3-pointer trimmed that margin to 60-54 with seven minutes remaining, danger time for a Utah team that's blown big leads all season.
But Jarred DuBois made clutch shot after clutch shot to keep Oregon at bay. As nervous as the crowd may have gotten, the Utes never allowed themselves to be threatened seriously by the team that entered the matchup as the league leader.
"I think we played solidly on defense, and I think we played a mature game," Krystkowiak said. "This team has improved. I think if we had this team in last year's Pac-12, you would see even more improvement. But it doesn't work that way. You have to compete in the league that you're in."
Utah's victory carried ramifications inside the conference. Oregon lost first place in the Pac-12 with the loss. UCLA instead is the regular-season champion and the top overall seed by virtue of its win over Washington on the road.
The Ducks have Washburn to thank for their regular-season demise. He scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, both team highs. DuBois, who played perhaps his best basketball of the season, scored 15 points. He grabbed five rebounds and handed out five assists.
Freshmen Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor proved to be able complements to the veterans. Loveridge scored nine of his 14 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, and added seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Taylor scored 14 points, handling Oregon's full-court pressure defense with his deft dribble. Utah was outrebounded 41-19 in a loss to the Ducks last month. The Utes won the rebounding battle Saturday. Oregon generates a lot of its offense in transition, but the Ducks didn't score a single point on the fast break Saturday.
"We shot 19 of 29 in the first half," Krystkowiak said. "So there weren't that many opportunities to take a rebound and score easy baskets. We did a lot of good things out there today. We hope that we can keep up the momentum."
R Utah beats a ranked team for the first time since 2008.
• Center Jason Washburn scores 20 points and grabs 13 rebounds in his last Huntsman Center appearance.
• Utah moves to 13-17 overall on the season.